Requiem for Rogan 14-02-53 — 21-01-21


Writer Johnny Rogan passed away in January 2021 at the age
of 67. Apart from writing the definitive history
of the Byrds, he also published books on John Lennon,
Van Morrison, Ray Davies/The Kinks,
Neil Young, and the Smiths.
I felt I owed it to Johnny to reread the entirety of our correspondence before writing this post ... and yet I have no idea why. Was it out of some vague notion of preparedness? Getting my facts straight (as a tireless researcher, he might’ve appreciated that)?

Maybe I was seeking solace in cold, dry facts as a form of emotional detachment?

And yes, as a matter of fact, I have been overthinking this. 

In the end, I decided I would consult the emails only for purposes of verifying the times, dates and accuracy of whichever quotations I wanted to share. It’s not my intention for this to be a detached, scholarly piece. And yet, it was our likeminded approach to writing about the music we love—scholarly, yes, but also methodical, respectful, and emotionally invested—that ultimately made it possible for us to become acquainted. I was going to say become friends, but I’m unsure whether we were. And so it’s difficult to balance the nature of my grief in a personal way.

I will leave it to others to write the definitive tributes that Johnny so richly deserves. This is simply going to be a post about the guy I came to know during the course of a correspondence; one that began in late 2014, and continued, in irregular spurts, until our last exchange in the autumn of 2020.

Thoughts & Words

In my opinion, the totality of Rogan’s Byrds-related works—Timeless Flight (1980), Timeless Flight Revisited: The Sequel (1997), plus Volumes 1 and 2 of Requiem for the Timeless, not to mention his contributions to the exemplary Byrds reissue program of the late 1990s/early 2000s—constitutes what is simply the finest, most complete, well-researched record we have of America’s greatest band. 

He was so good at this. The guy turned band politics into the stuff of high drama. Somehow, he made me care about the members of the Byrds, including—and I cannot stress this enough—the ones I actively disliked. He brought caricatures to life, and he also told me, oftentimes in excruciating detail, the sad circumstances of their deaths.

On a more personal level, I find myself missing our chats about the Byrds and Gene Clark. I could usually count on Rogan to provide a fulsome response to my theories, even if he thought them daft. 
Our communications took various forms: some were dashed off quickly—a quick question/an almost instantaneous reply. Other times we penned elaborate, old-fashioned letters of considerable length. I enjoyed these exchanges the most, because we were both able to stretch out, and elaborate on Gene’s work.
And really, this was the true magic of the connection: Rogan and I were able to talk about Gene with great facility, and at depths I’d only reached with select few in my life (a sad reminder that I’ve yet to meet another Gene Clark fan in person). If you’re reading this, odds are you can appreciate what I’m saying. 
To befriend another hardcore Gene Clark fan is, for me, a rare, precious connection because there simply aren’t that many of us around. And when a rare connection is suddenly, irrevocably severed—by death, estrangement, misunderstanding, or any other circumstance—the loss is real. 

As lifelong Clark/Byrds sponges, Rogan and I had mutual appreciation of the intricacies of Gene’s documented history: the strange twists and turns, abrupt exits, aborted side trips, bit players and assorted minutiae. This is not intended as a brag, just evidence of a shared musical passion for an obscure offshoot of a more well-known entity (i.e. The Byrds). And it was this that enabled us to develop a kind of shorthand in our chats: “Are you a Silvery Moon or Gypsy Angel guy?” he once asked me. To most people, this would appear to be a straightforward question about the merits of one album over another, like “Which do you prefer, Sticky Fingers or Exile on Main Street? Who’s Next or Quadrophenia?” In the context of our discussion, however, the implications of the query involved much more. 
As Rogan put it, there were really two Genes in the 1980s, the “one still doing amazing work like ‘Have You Seen the Faces of the Dreamers in the Rain’ [a major unreleased work, the writing of which he chronicled in Requiem Vol. 2–The Clarkophile]... the other cutting songs like [Smokie’s]  ‘Living Next Door To Alice’ and the Pat Robinson stuff, which is OK in part but not his best by any means.”

We understood the latter-Gene’s rationale, but preferred the work of the former: the rawly recorded private demos from a weathered, yet still-vital poet who—over a decade after No Other’s commercial failure had broken his spirit—still roamed the cosmic range.

Our greatest moment of bonding came in our shared belief that, contrary to popular opinion, Gene’s 1980s writing sometimes reached the same artistic heights as his more critically acclaimed works (and it’s this theory that will be dealt with in my next blogpost). 

I’ll miss bouncing my peculiar Clark-related theories off him—very much a case of the student seeking approval from his teacher. But most of all, I’ll miss the guy who wrote a book that played a key role in changing the course of my life.


Get to You

I sent my first email to Johnny Rogan on December 3, 2014–a gushing bit of fanboyism, capped off with the corniest subject line ever: “A sincere thank you.” 

Before you laugh, however, consider for a moment that hitting *send* on that first email was the culmination of a series of events that stretched back several years, to around 1998, when I bought Timeless Flight Revisited at Tower Records, during its brief residence in Toronto. After reading that book, I felt sure we were cut from the same piece of dark brown suede; I felt sure he was as much a “Clark man” as I. 

Apparently, I was wrong about that—as anyone who has ever read my interview with him will attest. But in my defence, I must say it was a presumption based on the fact that I hadn’t yet read anything that remotely reflected the esteem in which I held Gene Clark. Everything I’d seen up until then had propagated the still-popular belief that The Byrds = McGuinn. That Rogan went out of his way to state Gene’s importance in the group’s success—and did it with such eloquence—made a huge impression on me. I mean, for heaven’s sake, I memorized entire passages of his book, didn’t I? I think it’s fair to say that but for Johnny’s work, this blog would not exist. Moreover, without the one-two punch of Timeless Flight Revisited and John Einarson’s Gene Clark biography, I doubt whether I would’ve had the confidence to become such a passionate defender of Gene’s legacy. 

Stranger in a Strange Land

My desire to contact Rogan began tentatively, with sporadic web searches in the late 1990s/early 2000s. Alas, all my attempts to obtain his contact info were unsuccessful. Gradually, I came to the conclusion that—unlike 99% of people in the world, and 100% of the internet’s habitués—Rogan did not wish to be found. He did not crave attention, he avoided it. There was no website, no Twitter account, no Instagram—in short, no social media/online presence whatsoever (years later, prior to publication of Requiem for the Timeless Vol. 2, I gamely offered to start a Twitter account for him. He politely demurred). 

In short, I felt Rogan was an unashamed Luddite. And like every other aspect of his personality, it was both part of his charm and an occasional source of exasperation. He acknowledged the existence of social media, but would never bow to it, nor allow his brand to become associated with, or reliant upon, it. But it could be frustrating if I needed to get in touch with him quickly (e.g. when we were both working on The Lost Studio Sessions release) because he didn’t always have access to a computer while in Ireland. One was forced to wait until such time that he ambled over to use the library’s computer—the mental image of which struck me as quaintly charming, but also a bit frustrating when I needed answers in a hurry.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. In around 2010, I came to learn through a third party that Johnny did, in fact, have an email address (!!!)—however, I would not be furnished with the address until he had first provided formal consent. From that, I assumed he had been subjected to unwanted inquiries from disgruntled fans of Van Morrison, Morrissey and/or Marr, Neil Young, or other Byrds Nyrds. When I was finally green-lighted to contact him, it felt like I’d been given the keys to the executive men’s room or something—I mean it was great, sure, but also seemed a little...I dunno, primadonna-ish? I was only sending an email. And we all get unwanted emails, right? His was not a sensibility that I understood—but I wasn’t a famous writer either, so what did I know.

But it was this aspect of his character—his stubborn refusal to modernize, even when it stood to make life easier and more efficient—that eventually came to irritate me, especially as it pertained to his caretaking efforts vis-à-vis unheard/undocumented works by Gene Clark. One time, when he told me about his Gene Clark cassettes (he did not say how he obtained them; but based on references in his book, I’m assuming Terri Messina and Trace Harrill were sources of some) I asked him if he had ever considered digitizing these cassette treasures. To me, nothing could be more important than preserving and cataloguing rare works by The Master. It is a duty. Not only do I think it makes great sense, I think one is obliged to do so, if only out of respect for the artist. It may sound corny, but I believe it’s a sacred trust.

To my astonishment, Rogan said rather casually that the cassettes had not been digitized, nor had he taken any steps to copy or otherwise preserve the original tape. 

I was flummoxed. You know that feeling of dread when you sense a bad situation could get infinitely worse if you keep digging—but you keep digging regardless, because you need to know the truth?

That

So I asked him if he’d made plans to ensure the survival of the tapes in the event of his passing. He said he hadn’t—nor did he care what became of them if he died unexpectedly. 

Over the course of our acquaintance, I found his comments could be hurtful, on occasion; a touch patronizing, sometimes smug or insensitive. Professionally, he had written things in his books that I found questionable, objectionable, dubious, even downright tasteless (e.g. the inclusion of tawdry Gene-related stories in Requiem for the Timeless Vol. 2). This remark not only disappointed me, it flat-out infuriated me. In terms of my idolatry of Rogan, it was a moment of reckoning: my own version of the scene in Quadrophenia when Jimmy discovers Ace Face is a bellboy. When I received news of his death that day in early February, I assessed the loss in terms of the writer we lost, the man his friends and partner lost—and the potential loss of Gene’s unheard works, now suddenly thrown into jeopardy.

Anger—blindly righteous, beaten, unfocused, and ultimately impotent—carried the day.


Kathleen 

My introductory missive to Rogan (the aforementioned “A sincere thank you”) was a hilarious combination of stilted tones and effusive praise. I guess I overdid it a bit, but now, in light of his passing, I’m actually glad I got the chance to tell him those things. I’m glad I shared those feelings with him. In his reply, he told me he was moved by my letter...which, in turn, moved me. Now that he’s gone, I can take some measure of comfort in knowing I told him all of the things I wanted to tell him. At my age, that is not always the case; one isn’t necessarily afforded that chance. Sometimes things are left unsaid or unexplained. Sometimes the rapprochement one fantasizes about never comes to fruition.

When I received his reply, in late December 2014, I was stunned to hear that he had read this blog and  was particularly impressed with my take on ‘Kathleen.’ Perhaps this was my in with him—I did not know. I was duly, if momentarily, chuffed, of course...but that soon gave way to feelings of intimidation. I became even more self-conscious after that (no small feat!). On the whole though, the awareness that Rogan occasionally checked out my work pushed me to check and re-check my facts. His influence was also felt in the way I conducted interviews. At that time, occasionally awestruck and tongue-tied, I was sometimes hesitant to push my interviewees for answers; I would occasionally allow myself to get thrown off track. Rogan’s unparalleled knack for sniffing out key details—recollections that effectively put the reader in-the-moment, as it happened—helped me to at least make an effort to probe for more interesting answers from my interviewees, as opposed to settling for talking points and well-rehearsed anecdotes.

What I did not tell Johnny is that ‘Kathleen’ has always been a special song for me; it looms large in my personal mythology. Discovering it was like finding The Great Lost Gene Clark Song I always dreamed I’d find. Suffice it to say, no one else seemed to hear the otherworldly beauty I found there, but that didn’t stop me from counting it among Gene’s finest. I never had the feeling that I had made any kind of impact with that post, until Rogan mentioned it. He understood me. And I felt validated by his reaction. 

Around the time Requiem for the Timeless Vol. 2 was published, Rogan asked me a couple of times during our back-and-forths whether I had purchased a copy yet. At first I thought, “Wow, for a guy with no website, no social media accounts, and whose books are difficult to track down at the best of times, he’s suddenly doing a hard sell on me?” When the book finally arrived—pretty much the size of the concrete slab on the cover of Who’s Next—I told him I’d received it. He instructed me to look at the footnote for “Kathleen,” on page 406.

Yes, it’s only a footnote but it means a great deal to me.


Everybody’s Been Burned 

I would find out rather quickly that although Rogan said he was moved by my introductory email to him, it didn’t mean that he was going to go easy on me. He could be light, unexpectedly chatty in one email, sharp and business-like the next. If I assumed too much, or even slightly mischaracterized his position on something related to the Byrds/Gene Clark, he would immediately fire back a snarky reply that left no doubt where he stood. Facts mattered to him, which was fair enough. After all, no one wants to be misrepresented. But the unnecessarily prickly retorts to offhand comments had me convinced he had no interest in being my friend. We were merely scholarly acquaintances, both enrolled in the Byrds program, except he would always be the popular upperclassman. 

I think it’s fair to say I wanted him to be my friend, and it’s a peculiar quirk of my personality that I continued to hope that I might win him over. Because of this, a curious pattern developed: any time I began to feel as though a deep friendship might be in the offing, the tone of his next reply would quickly disabuse me of that notion, and I would be taken to task about some minor issue that had apparently set him off. He became haughty and professorial, addressing me in a formal, terse manner, as though I were an underling. Condescension, however, is the one thing that sets me off. His words were always so cleverly phrased, however, that I couldn’t always be sure. Was I being too sensitive again? (the answer was invariably yes). More than once I said out loud, “Fuck you, asshole,” after reading his messages, although I now chuckle at the memory. His tone was authoritative, occasionally imperious and hurtful, but again: his position was always clear.

On one occasion, he seemed exasperated with me after having learned of my involvement (a few years before) in what turned out to be a dubious Byrds-related project. I tried to play it down, but in truth I felt incredible shame at that moment: he’d found a bona fide skeleton in my closet, and I was embarrassed to have it thrown in my face. And as embarrassing as it was, he was absolutely right. His reproach stung, of course, but I’m quite certain I’ll never make the same mistake again.

But it was our bonding over the unheralded excellence of Gene’s long-form epics/mystical works of the ‘80s that I’ll cherish the most. Of course I’m speaking of songs like ‘Communications’ ‘Pledge to You’ ‘Your Fire Burning’ ‘Freedom Walk’ ‘My Marie’ ‘Dark of My Moon’ and others. This aspect of Gene’s work is given the short shrift—eclipsed, I think, by the officially released works from the period, the lingering stigma of the 20th Anniversary Byrds tours, and the overdue celebration of No Other as an overlooked, one-of-a-kind classic. At first he wasn’t having it, and would say that for every ‘Communications’ there were quite a few lesser tracks: overtly commercial songs, remakes, or other fruitless pursuits. Gradually, however, we came to agree that Gene’s ‘80s writing was compartmentalized, often dictated by situations and happenstance: if he had time, he composed on his own with his Tascam recorder (Gypsy Angel); if he was trying to be commercial, he would record covers or less idiosyncratic, more conventional originals (e.g. the 1990 recordings with John Arrias; the Silvery Moon stuff with Pat Robinson and John York). 

And, after I finally received my copy of  Requiem for the Timeless, Vol. 2, I came to learn that he had one more surprise for me. 

The greatest thrill for me in reading Rogan’s works came from his detailed descriptions of Gene’s unreleased works. I will never forget the first time I read about ‘Communications’ or the Sings for You-era material. It was like a glimpse into a secret vault. Some think he oversold ‘Communications,’ but I think he nailed it perfectly—all of this material was edge-of-the-seat info for me. So when I came to the section of RftT Vol. 2 that covered the early ‘80s Firebyrds period, I was not expecting much. 

That all changed, however, when I reached the section in which he talks about the still-unreleased ‘Have You Seen the Faces of the Dreamers in the Rain?’ Rogan, who obviously had access to a worktape, provides a fascinating fly-on-the-wall glimpse of Gene the poet at work: writing lines, experimenting with different words and phrases, revising, always pushing for the best possible iteration. It is truly compelling stuff, the most in-the-moment account we have of Gene Clark working on his art. Had the song been a dog, I would still consider it an invaluable historical record. But ‘Have You Seen The Faces...’ did not sound like a dog. It was another towering achievement; another lost ‘80s epic:
This is GC at this most creative in my view; he's actually composing the song in front of our ears and it's an epic, in every sense. I find it difficult to believe that it ends here with this rehearsal/practice as it's such a potentially important work. I can tell you that I've seen the lyrics of the song in Gene's hand. On the tape box it reads, 'Have You Seen The Faces Of The Dreamers In The Rain', but on the lyric sheet Gene has already precised the title to 'Dreamers In The Storm', even though it's 'rain' not 'storm' in the lyrics/recording. I can only speculate, but the fact that we have the full lyrics extant at least suggests there are additional attempts on cassette although, alas, no evidence at all that he ever attempted the song in a studio. 

— Johnny Rogan,  January 14, 2019


Rain Song

In the summer of 2017, I was making my way through RftT2, forcing myself to read it slowly, at a leisurely pace, to make it last (Note: at this point, I’d never even heard the title ‘Have You Seen the Faces of The Dreamers in the Rain?’). 

After reading the passage devoted to ‘Echoes,’ I was so impressed with Rogan’s take on it that I sent him an email to tell him so. That’s what Rogan’s writing did: it made me excited about Gene’s work. I was inspired by his words. He motivated me.

In typical fashion, Rogan ignored the compliment altogether, and stated he was glad I was taking my time to read it slowly. And then, out of nowhere, in a paragraph unto itself, he said the following:

I was thinking of you when I wrote about ‘Have You Seen The Faces Of The Dreamers In The Rain?’
— Johnny Rogan, August 17, 2017

Of course, I immediately scuttled all plans to read the book slowly, and flipped to the relevant pages. And I knew right away what it meant: Rogan had unearthed another unheralded ‘80s epic to add to the list. 

At this point, you may be wondering if I ever got the chance to hear ‘Have You Seen The Faces Of The Dreamers In The Rain?’

Alas, no. You see, it was on one of Johnny’s cassettes. 

But I’ll let you in on a little secret...I believe he was a Clark man, at heart. I figure a friend would know such things.

I’m going to miss him very much.




Comments

Jason McCollam said…
Thank you for this article. The light just came on for me this January, and between indigo, you and Rogan, you’ve made it so much easier to navigate and hear/learn about what I was missing. The Byrds history I grew up on has been totally shattered after my awakening to Gene, I had just ordered Timeless Vol. 2 the week before Rogan passed. From his writing, I too sensed he was a GC guy at heart. I want to take a moment to thank him for Volume 2, I feel he went places In Genes story no other historians would. I left Vol. 2 feeling like I really finally understood the different sides to Gene. Keep on bringing Gene to the light, more will Come around, it’s too good not to. Cheers, Jason
skipway said…
Interesting tale, Tom. One obvious fact comes to mind about Rogan's cassettes, namely, whoever gave them to him, if still alive, has copies. So, there is still hope. Having not read Rogan, I'd not heard of Communications or Dreamers. Would it be possible to print the lyrics to those songs in a future post? I know other Gene fanatics would welcome that.